Auburn dentist Nate Heffelfinger and partner Larry Stoller applied for a patent on an improved way to make a denture. Heffelfinger received the patent last week and currently has 20 patients already using the new, improved denture with proven success.
AUBURN — Auburn dentist Nate Heffelfinger couldn’t believe it when his first patent finally arrived last week.
Heffelfinger, an Auburn resident who owns a dental practice in town, applied for the patent in conjunction with his partner, Larry Stoller, who owns a dental laboratory in Bluffton, back in November of 2014. Together, the two came up with the idea to improve the production of dentures so they would feel more natural and wear down less quickly.
“When it comes to dentures, dentists generally share their patient’s lack of enthusiasm for the process,” Heffelfinger said.
That’s because it can take as many as six visits to make an impression of a patient’s mouth, carve the teeth into a wax record, have it scanned into a computer program, have the teeth milled, stained and glazed by hand and have the dentures fitted properly to where a patient feels comfortable enough with them.
Until Heffelfinger and Stoller came up with the idea to use zirconium to make dentures and partial dentures, plastic was used. The plastic wore down quickly and would need to be replaced every three to four years, creating a high price tag and discouraging people from replacing them as needed.
This would cause problems, as teeth would eventually flatten and the further strain of chewing would be placed on another healthy part of the mouth, causing damage to healthy teeth and other issues such as a bad diet.
The zirconium material comes in a white, chalk-like puck, similar to the size of a hockey puck.
It’s been used to make dental implants and crowns for a long time and conveniently happens to be tooth-colored.
On average, Heffelfinger estimates that a pair of dentures made from plastic costs between $1,500-1,600. The newer dentures will cost closer to $1,000 and last far longer. It’s easy to see the financial savings behind this idea.
Stoller focuses on the more technical aspects of the new dentures, which are created in his lab. His business has approximately 200 accounts and will be moving to Fort Wayne soon to accommodate growth.
“It’s an exact process with proven results,” Heffelfinger said. It’s even more important to note that it’s already having impact locally.
Today, about 20 people wear the new dentures, including Auburn resident Kathy Synesall. She was fitted with her dentures in December 2016 and couldn’t be happier. They are also worn by patients of a dentist whose office is in Warsaw.
“I’m really happy with them. I chew a lot better now, and they’re a perfect fit. They don’t fall out,” Synesall said. This is especially important since she works in public administration and wouldn’t want them to fall out during work. Synesall has had dentures since a young age due to her less-than-perfect experience with previous dentists.
“Despite regularly going to the dentist every six months, my previous dentists would just pull teeth sometimes if there were abscesses instead of fixing the problem,” she said.
So when Heffelfinger suggested a change, she agreed.
“In a way, I was a guinea pig,” she added. She now wears the third improved version of the dentures made by Heffelfinger and Stoller.
Heffelfinger estimates it takes a month for every year that a patient has worn dentures previously to get accustomed to new dentures.
“It’s similar to an artificial limb. You have to learn to walk with this — chew, smile,” he said.
With better access to health and more baby boomers seeking medical attention, these new dentures should help reduce the number needing more dentures in the future.
The practices and benefits are the same, but they just wear down at a more natural pace, according to Heffelfinger.
Heffelfinger will speak about his patent at the 2018 Indiana Dental Association meeting next year.
The two are in the works for two other patents, which they hope to receive soon.
“The focus is on helping people understand their teeth and how to take good care of them for life,” he said.